Friends, thank you for all the encouragement I have received lately, on a variety of projects. And a big shout-out to all the coaches I have worked with lately in a variety of contexts—thank you for all the work you do to support other educators. I know it’s harder than it looks. And also, it was great to have so many conversations at #CABECAPSS2019. I talked to so many people who had lovely things to say about the Coaching Letter, and while it was indeed lovely to hear, it was also overwhelming, especially since so many people pointed out that I haven’t published one in a while. And to those people who just signed up, thank you, and while this CL is all about coaching (mostly), few are directly on that topic; coaching, when it is named, is usually in connection with better leadership, better decision-making, and stronger organizational development. That is, I think, the overall goal of the CL: to encourage coaches to take on more leadership, and to encourage leaders be a bit more like coaches.

I mentioned in CL #84 that Sarah Woulfin and I had written an article for Ed Leadership, and while that was not published in the print issue on coaching that just came out, a shorter version will be in ASCD Express, which is free even if you don’t subscribe to Ed Leadership. It will be emailed November 27, but the link will be available early on Twitter, as @ELMagazine is hosting a live chat with the authors on Twitter—by which I mean not just me and Sarah, but also Jim Knight, Elena Aguilar, and Jill Harrison Berg—at 8 pm on Wednesday. #ELMagChat.

Twitter do nothing for you? Can’t say I blame you. But luckily, coaching is all the rage at the moment, and so here are some other resources on coaching that are available to you.

First, my partner in coaching and other endeavors, Kerry Lord, and I will be facilitating two coaching workshops in the spring semester at Mercy Center, in Madison, CT. We ran one of these last year—a sort of advanced coaching workshop for anyone who already has coaching training and experience—and it was so great that we’re doing it again on April 30. And we’re also offering a workshop specifically on coaching for equity on March 24—again, in response to popular demand. Email Bridget if you want us to hold a spot for you.

Second, the November 2019 issue of Ed Leadership is indeed all about coaching, and here are my thoughts on some of the articles in it and other recent publications.

Jim Knight, “Why Teacher Autonomy Is Central to Coaching Success” is a little problematic for me. I agree with almost everything he says. And I definitely think you should watch this Daniel Pink TED Talk on motivation. So while I believe that autonomy is important, and I agree that “exclusively top-down approaches to change are almost guaranteed to fail”, I don’t think that means that teachers, or any other professional, should have the expectation that they have “the right to say no to particular proposals”. I remember the first time I heard Richard Elmore speak (Denver, January 2009, just before Instructional Rounds was published, which was my introduction to the Connecticut Center for School Change), he spoke at length about closing the variation in practice across classrooms, and about how ridiculous it is to think of your surgeon saying to you “I hear they have this new-fangled approach to your condition called laparoscopy, but I don’t buy-in so I’m just going to open you right up.” For a much more powerful approach, please read Amy Edmondson’s Teaming, or “Why Are We Here?” in the Nov-Dec HBR (six free articles a month if you register, I believe; also gives you the option of listening), which connects purpose to strategy.

Elena Aguilar, “You Can’t Have a Coaching Culture Without a Structure” is extremely useful, not least because she talks about ensuring clarity in all aspects of coaching, including but not limited to its definition and purpose: ‘ “How is coaching defined in your school or district? Who came up with that definition and how has it been communicated?” I’m usually met with a blank stare until a realization sinks in: Without a definition, we’re hamstrung… the problem is that there’s no agreement on what the school’s coaches are supposed to do.’ I recognize this issue, and I also see that many districts have made great strides lately in delineating the role of coaching and how principals support coaching and how coaching is connected to the district’s strategy for improvement. My one quibble with this article is the use of the term strategy; I would have loved for her to articulate the relationship between coaching and strategy, because I have come to see that coaching is not a strategy in and of itself. Rather, it exists in support of the district’s strategy for improvement, which has to include a strong model for high quality instruction.

Michael S. Moody, “If Instructional Coaching Really Works, Why Isn’t It Working?”  This article is much closer to what I mean when I talk about coaching supporting the district’s strategy for improvement: “Oftentimes, schools and districts rely on coaching as a silver bullet to solve all problems related to instruction. In reality, there are a number of interrelated issues that lead to good or poor instruction… Effective coaching must be positioned within each of these variables as part of a larger solution. Coaches, school leaders, and teachers need to know how the coaching initiative aligns to and directly supports the school and district improvement strategy.” Please note that this article is summarized in issue #811 of the Marshall Memo.

Jill Harrison Berg, “Leading Together/Talking It Out” is a much shorter article, and well worth the read: “Skillful coaching conversations create a psychologically safe space for individuals to explore and extend their thinking. When such a conversation is done well, both participants emerge with empathy and a fresh appreciation of differing perspectives.” She goes on to describe key coaching moves, which represent a great example of how skills that are foundational to coaching can also be deployed to great effect by leaders. Jill is also the author of Leading in Sync, which I happily recommend.

Also summarized in #811 of the Marshall Memo and also in the most recent HBR is “The Leader as Coach”, which I appreciate for two reasons: their argument that coaching skills are now indispensable skills for leaders, not just optional extras (like leather car seats); and their frank declaration that coaching is hard and supervisors aren’t as good at it as they think they are (see Dunning-Kruger effect in CL #12). At the same time, I don’t love the GROW model—but that’s for another time.

Kay Psencik, “Coaching Principals Is A Calling And A Commitment” in the October The Learning Professional. Kay was my assistant superintendent when I was a young whippersnapper in Austin, Texas, 25 years ago, and she had a big influence on my thinking and my career path. Also, she’s the only person I know who is followed by Barack Obama on Twitter.

Third, Sarah Woulfin very kindly shared some of her articles in this Google folder—please check them out.

Fourth, here are some other kind of random resources on coaching that I just really like:

This modest meditation on the influence of Paolo Freire on coaching—spend some time with the illustrations, they are simple but they say a lot.

Atul Gawande’s TED Talk on coaching. Love it.

Hackman’s “A Theory of Team Coaching” which is useful not just for coaching teams, because at heart is about matching the coaching to the stage of learning of the client, singular or plural. Scroll down.

My article on coaching in The Learning Professional a few years ago. Of course. The principal featured in that article, Kenneasha Sloley, has gone on to do great things.

Another TED Talk: Celeste Headlee on how to have a better conversation. She’s great.

Finally, I hear from my friend Bob that Michael Lewis’ podcast, Against The Rules, will be about coaching in season two. Michael Lewis is also the author of several bestselling books, including The Fifth Risk, which is a fitting companion to the impeachment hearings—more on that and other sources on good government in CL #66.

Can you possibly need anything else? I hope you take that as a challenge. If there is anything else I can do for you, don’t hesitate to reach out. Best, Isobel

Isobel Stevenson, PhD PCC
Connecticut Center for School Change
151 New Park Ave
Hartford, CT 06106
Cell: 860-576-9410
Twitter: @IsobelTX
Coaching Letter:

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